Baker Administration Proposes To-Go Beer and Wine, Cutting Local Red Tape and MCAS Test Relief

Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito and Gov. Charlie Baker. (Photograph by Matt Stone/Boston Herald/Pool.)

Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito and Gov. Charlie Baker on Tuesday outlined the administration’s latest legislative response to COVID-19. (Photograph by Matt Stone/Boston Herald/Pool.)

Restaurants would be able to sell beer and wine with to-go orders, requirements around MCAS tests could be changed and local governments could give residents more time to make tax payments, under a new bill Gov. Charlie Baker filed Tuesday to create flexibility in local responses to the coronavirus pandemic.

Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito introduced the bill during their daily coronavirus update, with the governor saying it “cuts red tape for cities and towns” and aims to make it easier for municipalities to meet their residents’ needs and keep their governments running.

“It’s clear that we have to stick together, but stick together in a time where social distancing is becoming and is very much a real part of our lives,” Polito said, voicing appreciation for local governments offering services via remote workforces, boards of health ramping up their efforts, and first responders who continue to deal with emergencies like house fires.

Filed the same day that an emergency order closed most of the state’s businesses—except for essential operations like grocery stores and medical facilities—and with the Department of Public Health advising residents to stay home, the bill contains a number of provisions.

With restaurants and bars temporarily limited to takeout and delivery service only, under a Baker order, the bill would let establishments licensed for on-premises alcohol consumption sell wine and beer with their to-go orders during the current state of emergency.

“This change would restore a critical source of revenue to restaurants and other food establishments,” Baker wrote in his filing message.

The beer and wine would need to be sold in its original sealed container and purchased in the same transaction as a food order. Customers would be limited to 192 ounces of beer and 1.5 liters of wine in a single transaction.

Some states, including New Hampshire, have already taken similar steps around beer and wine sales. Asked Friday if he’d propose such a move here, Baker said he was not considering it at that moment.

Another emergency order closed K-12 schools in Massachusetts until at least early April, and the legislation proposes a number of education-related measures.

If passed, it would grant Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeff Riley the authority to modify or waive the requirement for the annual statewide MCAS assessment. Scores on tenth grade MCAS tests are used as a “competency determination” for high school graduation, and Baker’s bill would also allow the state education board to modify or waive the competency determination requirement, on a recommendation from Riley.

The Massachusetts Teachers Association has been calling for the cancellation of MCAS exams this spring. Riley, in his department’s weekly email update, said Monday that officials are “exploring all options” on this year’s tests.

“There may be an opportunity for a one-year assessment and accountability waiver from the federal government, but even if that is granted, we would need legislative relief from our state legislature to waive the state law around the testing requirement,” he wrote.

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